March 2008 Monthly Forecast

Posted 28 February 2008
Download Complete Forecast: PDF


Expected Council Action

The Council in March will hold consultations on the Secretary-General’s report, due in late February, on implementing resolution 1701 of August 2006, which ended the war between Hezbollah and Israel. Lebanon’s domestic political crisis has deepened, and this is likely to be on the minds of Council members as well.

The Secretary-General is also expected to report developments on the establishment of a special tribunal for the trial of suspects in the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The Council is likely to hold consultations on this matter.

Key Recent Developments
Security continues to deteriorate in Lebanon. On 12 February, one of Hezbollah’s top leaders, Imad Mughniyeh, was killed in a car bombing in Damascus. At his funeral in Beirut on 14 February, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah blamed Israel for Mughniyeh’s death and threatened it with open war. Iran highlighted its relations with Hezbollah by sending its foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, to the funeral. On the same day, thousands of Lebanese supporters of the “March 14” government majority (Hezbollah’s political opponents) gathered in Beirut to commemorate the third anniversary of Hariri’s assassination. Tensions between the two sides were high.

On 3 February, two Lebanese were killed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) near Ghajar on the border between Lebanon and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Israel said the two were gunmen who had opened fire at the IDF. Lebanese security sources said Israel opened fire.

On 27 January, clashes between Lebanese soldiers and mostly Shi’a civilians erupted in south Beirut, killing at least seven. After an army investigation, 19 soldiers were charged with firing at protesters and disobeying military orders, while 58 civilians were charged with rioting and attacking soldiers.

The Council has responded to terrorist attacks in Lebanon. The latest press statement, adopted on 30 January, condemned the 25 January bombing that killed Captain Wissam Eid of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces and injured several others. Captain Eid was involved in the investigation of the murder of Hariri. The Council agreed to a request from the Lebanese government for help from the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) in investigating Eid’s killing.

Lebanon’s political situation remains deadlocked. Although all factions agreed on Army Chief General Michel Suleiman as a consensus candidate in November, at press time Lebanon was still without a president. On 26 February, elections were delayed for the fifteenth time to 11 March after parliament failed to agree on the composition of a future government. The opposition wants veto power in the cabinet or a three-way split of seats with the governing coalition and the president. The coalition has rejected these demands.

Arab League mediation in the political process continues to seek implementation by the parties of the three-point plan adopted in January, which includes election of the president, formation of a national unity government, and promulgation of a new election law. On 27 January, at an emergency session in Cairo, Arab foreign ministers agreed that the League’s Secretary-General Amr Moussa should continue mediation. He visited Beirut and left on 10 February “with some hope”. If the election is postponed again, the League may assess the situation at its next ministerial meeting in Cairo early in March, and at the annual summit at the end of March in Damascus.

In an interview on the Lebanese TV channel LBC on 5 February, Geir Pedersen, the departing UN special coordinator, called resolution 1701 a success because “we have managed to preserve calm for more than 18 months in South Lebanon.” He said investigations were still incomplete on attacks against the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) although “none of the clues we have point to Hezbollah.” On 15 February, Pedersen left his post and he has not been replaced yet.

On 13 February, the Secretary-General announced that the management committee for the special tribunal had been established. He also said that financial contributions met the first 12 months of budgeted operations.

The Council remains seriously concerned about the presidential crisis in Lebanon. In the absence of political agreement, little progress can be made on the 1701 process, which among other things calls for the government of Lebanon to extend its control over all Lebanese territory. The Council adopted a cautious approach and decided not to issue its usual presidential statement following the last 1701 report on 30 October. Thus, one option is for the Council to hold consultations on the forthcoming 1701 report but continue its public silence, especially if the report shows little or no progress.

The Council might also adopt a statement recalling the importance of resolution 1701 and retain its focus on the process. The statement could emphasise previous positions, such as:

  • reiterating support to the Lebanese government and to the Lebanese army;
  • urging all parties to cooperate and implement fully 1701;
  • expressing concern at Israel’s violations of Lebanese airspace;
  • expressing concern at the movement of arms to and within Lebanon and calling on all states in the region to respect the arms embargo;
  • calling on Syria to reinforce control of its border with Lebanon;
  • encouraging the Secretary-General to continue his contacts with all concerned parties to resolve the issue of the Sheb’a Farms; and
  • reiterating concern at the fate of the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah in 2006 and at Israel’s failure to cooperate on the location of landmines.

If presidential elections fail to take place on 26 February, the most likely option would be for the Council to reiterate its concern over delays and urge a compromise. It seems that there is little appetite for more Council action unless the Arab League decides to abandon its mediation.

Key Issues
A major issue is the institutional stalemate, which hampers implementation of resolution 1701 and threatens further destabilisation. The Secretary-General’s report is likely to report little progress on the following:

  • Sheb’a Farms: It seems unlikely that in the present circumstances, any agreement can be reached from Lebanon, Syria and Israel on the way forward, such as placing the territory under UN jurisdiction.
  • Arms embargo: There have been reports by the Lebanese government of arms smuggling from Syria in breach of the embargo. This was confirmed by Israeli intelligence, and Hezbollah has said it is fully prepared to fight Israel. Syria has denied the allegations. The 1701 report is however likely to contain information about the state of border controls.
  • Disarmament of militias: Resumption of the inter-Lebanese dialogue with this aim seems impossible under the current political circumstances.
  • Kidnapped Israeli soldiers and Israeli over-flights: The two issues remain connected, given the UN’s failure to secure the release of the two soldiers. Israel says its over-flights are therefore justified.
  • Landmines: Although Israel has recently provided the UN with some data on cluster bomb sites in south Lebanon, it has not complied with the demand in resolution 1701 to provide precise coordinates. UN mine clearance personnel are discovering around ten new sites per month. More than thirty Lebanese have been killed and about 200 wounded since the end of the 2006 war. The UN Mine Action Coordination Center for South Lebanon described this as one of the worst uses of cluster munitions in history.
  • UNIFIL: Troop contributors have been concerned about safety, particularly in light of the recent attacks against UNIFIL troops. Two peacekeepers were wounded on 8 January. Another issue is how UNIFIL’s investigative capacity is being reinforced.

There is also concern whether the Lebanese army, composed of all factions, will be able to hold together amid increasing sectarian tensions. Hezbollah strongly criticised the role of the army during the 27 January riots when seven protesters were killed in a mainly Shi’a suburb of Beirut during protests over power cuts.

If presidential elections fail on 26 February, the Council must decide whether or how to pressure the parties into agreement. Clearly, securing Syria’s cooperation would be helpful, but its official support for the Arab League plan did not translate into concrete action. Whether the Council should intervene—or leave the issue to the Arab League—is an open question.

On the tribunal, the main issue at this stage is a transition from investigation to prosecution. If that occurs, the Council may not have to extend the mandate of UNIIIC, which expires in June.

Council Dynamics
There is still consensus on the necessity of full implementation of resolution 1701. France, the UK and the US, in particular, believe that the 1701 process is important regardless of the political situation and are willing to remain in the lead. It seems, however, that traditional fault lines on 1701 issues are likely to emerge during discussions, and perhaps will be more divisive with the new Council composition. Members like Libya, Indonesia and South Africa may emphasise the need for Israel to stop its over-flights, while others may insist on disarmament issues.

There also appears to be consensus that the Council should keep a low profile on the elections, at least for now, to let the Arab League mediate.

Criticism of Syria is mounting among the Council’s western members. Many believe that Syria wants to maintain its influence over Lebanon and may want to delay the establishment of the tribunal by refusing to cooperate on the elections. In the absence of progress, some Council members may try to push for a stronger stance against Syria.

Several Non-Aligned members seem to think there is too much activity on Lebanon and that adopting frequent statements may be counterproductive, have a negative impact and appear biased. This was illustrated when a French attempt to issue a Council press statement for the third anniversary of Hariri’s assassination was countered by South Africa, Libya and Indonesia on those grounds. It seems that China, Russia and Vietnam were also sceptical.

On the tribunal, members like China, Panama, Russia and South Africa that abstained on resolution 1757, which established the tribunal, appear to remain cautious about Council support for the tribunal.

Sign up for SCR emails
UN Documents

Selected Resolutions

  • S/RES/1757 (30 May 2007) established the special tribunal under Chapter VII and requested a report within ninety days.
  • S/RES/1701 (11 August 2006) called for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah and authorised a reinforcement of UNIFIL.

Latest Presidential Statements

  • S/PRST/2007/46 (11 December 2007) expressed “deep concern at the repeated postponements of the presidential election in Lebanon”.
  • S/PRST/2007/29 (3 August 2007) was the latest statement on implementation of resolution 1701.

Latest Secretary-General’s Reports

  • S/2007/684 (28 November 2007) was the last UNIIIC report.
  • S/2007/641 (30 October 2007) was the last report on resolution 1701.
  • S/2007/525 (4 September 2007) was the report on the establishment of the tribunal.

Latest Letters

  • S/2008/78 (7 February 2008) was a letter from Lebanon on Israeli violations of Lebanese territory in January.
  • S/2008/74 (5 February 2008) was a letter from Lebanon informing the Council about the 3 February incident in which Israel opened fire at two Lebanese citizens.
  • S/2008/60 and S/2008/61 (31 January 2008) was an exchange of letters between the Secretary-General and the Council responding positively to a request from Lebanon for UNIIIC assistance to investigate the murder of Major Eid and others.
  • S/2008/57 (31 January 2008) was a letter from Cuba as Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Chairman complaining about the Council’s refusal to allow NAM to participate in the 30 January debate on the Middle East, and enclosing a statement on the situation in the Middle East including on Lebanon.

Press Statement

  • SC/9234 (30 January 2008) condemned the terrorist attack that killed Captain Eid.

Other Relevant Facts

UNIIIC Commissioner and Future Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal

Daniel Bellemare (Canada)

Secretary-General’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon

To be appointed

UNIFIL Force Commander

Major General Claudio Graziano (Italy)

Size and Composition of UNIFIL

  • Authorised: 15,000 troops
  • Current (30 November 2007): 13,264 military personnel
  • Troop-contributing countries: Belgium, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, France, FYR of Macedonia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg, Malaysia, Nepal, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Spain, Tanzania and Turkey

Cost (approved budget)

1 July 2007 – 30 June 2008: $748.20 million (A/C.5/61/23)

Useful Additional Sources

Full forecast

Subscribe to receive SCR publications